Finland’s War of Choice: The Troubled German-Finnish Coalition in World War II
Henrik O Lunde
When looking for English language books on Finnish Military History, the Winter War of 1939-40 dominates the scene. The plucky underdogs against the Soviet hordes during the harsh Nordic conditions paint a heroic picture that captures many. However, the Finnish offensive against the Soviet Union in 1941, fighting alongside the Third Reich, is much less covered. Retired US Army Col. Henrik O. Lunde’s ‘Finland’s War of Choice’ is one of the few books in English that attempts to bring more nuance and detail into this often-overlooked chapter of the Eastern Front.
Mr Lunde promises to explore the relationship between Finland’s military and government and their counterparts in the Third Reich, and “the unique problems that arose from an ill-prepared coalition between a democracy and a dictatorship”. He also states another goal for his work is to show that Finland had other options other than the one it did take.
The book opens with a brief look at Finland from its independence in 1917, how it was gained in the chaos of the Bolshevik Revolution, before moving on to the difficult early years of the 20s. It then moves on to the lead-up to the Winter War, the negotiations between the two states, the isolation Finland felt as the Baltic states succumbed to Soviet pressure and the world was focused on the Third Reich’s blitzkrieg through Poland. Before finishing with a brief look at the conflict and then the ramifications of the armistice.
Lunde’s work shines best as a categorical retelling of the war between 1941 to 1945 in Finland. For many readers, it will be the first time they have heard of operations against the Murmansk railway or the encirclements of Soviet Divisions in the forests of northern Karelia. Presented mainly in chronological order, sometimes needing deviation to help give a better narration of an operation, it looks at operations both at a tactical and a strategic level. This though can mean that sometimes it is a slog to read, but this is more than made up for by the detailed accounts of battalion-level combat. Unfortunately, this detail is restricted by the lack of maps to help the reader visualise those movements.
The main issue with Lunde’s book is due to the author’s limitations. As it soon becomes apparent, the emphasis is on German operations rather than Finnish operations. This is explained by a common issue encountered by non-Finns attempting to write about Finland, the lack of knowledge of the Finnish language and the resulting lack of use of Finnish-language source material. He also states, “My use of Russian sources has basically been limited to works that have been translated into English.” This means numerous recent Finnish and Russian research and publications on the Continuation War, as well as primary source material, have been missed by the author. These crucial issues severely hamper the book.
While at times Lunde does mention how certain problems, such as differing war aims, were prevalent in the coalition, at other times he makes assumptions without supporting his claim. For example, Finland had other choices than the one it took and that it was fully aware of the German plans for Barbarossa. Whenever looking at Finland’s internal affairs, the text comes out as very judgmental. Often it seems to awkwardly force in little tidbits of the relationship between large slabs of text. This skimming over of Finland’s reasoning for getting involved with the Third Reich, or lack of in-depth analysis of the political situation in Finland at the time, can present a skewed narrative that Finland unreservedly joined in with the Nazis’ grand scheme.
It seems that Mr Lunde leans extremely heavily on Ziemke’s German Northern Theater of Operations, with some paragraphs appearing as if lifted straight from it with minimal editing, with sprinklings of Mannerheim’s memoirs and the Halder Diaries. The chapter endnotes show a very limited source pool, and this means that certain contexts are missed. As immediately following the war, the Soviet Peace Commission, routinely dictated Finnish life, including how certain events were portrayed. Mannerheim’s memoirs are a good example, being compiled in the aftermath of the war responsibility trials that saw kangaroo courts set up and exaggerated charges brought against Finns.
The book’s main strength is it is a campaign-driven book, providing a solid chronological depiction of the conflict, especially in the closing chapters. Its superficial analysis of Finland’s participation should be handled with caution. While it fails to achieve its stated purpose of exploring Finland’s reasoning behind joining with the Third Reich. It does make up for it by being a solid, detailed, readable introduction to the Continuation and Lapland wars.
To purchase your own copy, please use the amazon affiliate link below:-
Finland’s War of Choice The Troubled German-Finnish Coalition in World War II